WELLSBORO — Parking in Wellsboro has, in the past, been simple: pull into a spot, feed the meter a nickel or a dime or nothing at all, and walk away. On a rare occasion, you’d return return to find a ticket beneath the windshield wiper.
But that’s changed. Parkers must now feed the meter a quarter rather than a dime or a nickel. A kiosk system is in use in two public lots, and parking tickets have increased from $5 to $10. Plus, there’s an enforcement officer patrolling the borough, resulting in more frequent tickets.
That has one business owner calling for a change.
Loren Nowak, who with his partner Edie Seeman, runs Stained Glass Reflections, is lobbying the borough to reduce enforcement of parking meters or remove the meters altogether. His reason? He believes parking tickets are a detriment to the downtown business district.
In the past, police enforced meters sporadically between other duties: patrolling, investigations and other work. However, Nowak believes that was frequent enough to remind parkers to slip change into the slot. The more stringent enforcement, he said, doesn’t encourage compliance but rather drives people away.
“My main concern is the well-being of the downtown businesses,” said Nowak. “Anything that deters bringing people in kind of works against what we’re doing.”
He and other merchants shared anecdotes of people who walked into a store to pick up dry cleaning or get change for the meter, only to return to find a ticket on the windshield, or a minimum wage employee getting a ticket while at work.
“Back off on the excess ticket writing,” said Nowak. “We’ve got a lot of empty shops in town. Compared to other towns, we’re doing fantastic, but that could go downhill.”
Jennie Lusk, owner of Wild Asaph Outfitters, said she now sees both sides of the parking issue.
“I’ve had people come in the store and leave because they’re scared of the meter,” said Lusk, adding, “You do feel hunted down in town sometimes.”
Initially, she wholeheartedly supported eliminating the parking meters. Yet at the same time she felt aggravated by other business owners parking in front of her shop all day. Recent changes, such as reducing enforcement hours from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. to 9 a.m.-5 p.m., have improved the parking, she said.
The borough piloted a kiosk system in 2018 and installed it on the Water and Pearl street lots this year, removing 70 meters, said borough manager Scot Boyce Jr. More long-term parking spaces were added, and the price was reduced from the one hour for 25 cents at meters to two hours for a quarter at the kiosks.
“I love the kiosks. I think they’re great,” said Lusk.
Nowak, on the other hand, believes the signs on the lots are too small, too high and not centralized enough.
Council implemented the kiosks and the parking enforcement officer on the recommendation of the parking authority, comprised of Curt Schramm, Al Garrison, Ellen Bryant, Kim Miller and Jim Paxson. Three are business owners, one is a banker and the other a retired business owner.
Schramm, who owns C&S Sports, said the changes were implemented following a parking study by the EADS Group during the gas boom. The study looked at parking needs of tenants, employees, business owners and shoppers.
Underutilized parking areas were identified as well as areas parked with the same cars all day.
“The biggest problem was enforcement,” said Schramm. “People felt they could park where they wanted, when they wanted and not get a ticket.”
The borough initially hired someone to enforce parking, but the public response prompted that person to quit. The parking authority then looked at kiosks, in part because of the rising cost to service and calibrate the meters, sometimes due to people intentionally breaking the meter by shoving nickels and dimes into it.
“One of the reasons for the kiosks is because people don’t carry quarters,” said Boyce.
The kiosks accept quarters, bills and credit/debit cards. Employees or shoppers can leave and return to the lot, as long as it’s within the allotted time. Or, as of this week, add time to their parking with the Pango app.
Boyce said Pango works in conjunction with the kiosks, meters and the enforcement software. Users download money into a digital wallet and pay for parking without having to go to the kiosk or meter. It will also identify available parking spots, sends alerts when parking time is running out and upload additional parking time.
It will also let users pay tickets online instead of dropping it off at the police station or sending it through the mail.
Pango uses the vehicle plate number and additional vehicles can also be added to the user’s account, said Boyce.
What it won’t let you do is pay for parking in a kiosk area, and park at a meter. Then, you may get a ticket, said Boyce.
Nowak said other municipalities, such as Corning, N.Y., and Mansfield, offer free parking.
The communities are different, said Boyce. Corning also has paid parking. Wellsboro’s parking rates are “cheap” compared to Towanda, where it’s 75 cents per hour, he added.
“We barely make enough to make it economically feasible,” he said.
The borough generates about $1,000 each month from the parking tickets and another couple thousand from the meters and kiosks, between $4,000 and $5,000 per month, said Boyce.
That covers repairing the meters, painting lines in the lots, resurfacing the asphalt, snow removal and maintaining the landscaping.
Paid parking spreads the cost of maintaining the parking lots and downtown area from only borough taxpayers to those who shop and work in the borough, Boyce said.
What it does not cover is the enforcement officer’s salary. That comes from the police department budget, said police chief Jim Bodine.
Nowak believes the borough could eliminate all paid parking, noting that he still sees parking spaces when the meters are bagged during the holiday shopping season.
But Boyce and Bodine said that parking habits change when meters are bagged.
“When we bag the meter, the lots are empty,” said Boyce.
Too much enforcement?
To Nowak’s main point — the aggressive parking enforcement — Boyce and Bodine argue it’s not aggressive, it’s consistent.
“Half the issue here is we used to have sporadic enforcement; now it’s consistent,” said Bodine.
The enforcement officer is part-time, typically works two to three hours a day four days a week. He changes his route and times, although most enforcement is around mid-day.
“Consistency is now here and we’re not aggressive by any means,” said Bodine.
He points to a box of tickets — hundreds of slips of paper — which are parking tickets he has voided since Jan. 1 of this year.
“It comes down to you have to put money in the meter,” he said.
The borough expected to see an increase in tickets issued when enforcement began, then expected it to fall off. It has not, said Boyce. He suspects most violators are local residents, not visitors.
Schramm agreed, noting that out-of-the area shoppers think the parking fees and tickets are low compared to their hometown. There are still tweaks to make, he added, but the intent of the changes — finding affordable parking for employees, having Main Street open for shoppers and less abusers — are finding results.
“The thing I’ve seen is parking spaces rotate more often,” he said. “Free parking would be a problem because the abusers would go back to abusing. This way, I think it’s working.”